Making sense of Brexit: French skilled workers negotiating their migration, integration, and identification in the UK

Couloigner, Suzanne (2022) Making sense of Brexit: French skilled workers negotiating their migration, integration, and identification in the UK. PhD thesis, University of Nottingham.

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After years of European expansion, the UK decided in 2016 to end its membership of the European Union (EU), now commonly known as Brexit. The present thesis contributes to the growing body of literature investigating the impacts of Brexit on EU citizens, with a specific focus on migration, integration, and identification. More specifically, the thesis builds on the idea that those three processes are interrelated, impacting one another, but are also ongoing, thus promoting the dynamic nature of migrating, integrating, and identifying. Furthermore, the thesis highlights how each process can be studied from a micro or macro perspective but that a connection between the two levels of analysis is rare. The thesis’ main objectives are thus (1) to explore individual migrants’ perceptions of the macro context in which migration, integration, and identification are negotiated, and (2) to investigate how a personal, migrant, idiosyncratic understanding of this context influences migrants’ migration, integration, and identification. To reach these two objectives, the thesis evolves around an overarching research question, namely, how do migrants’ perceptions of macro changes influence their migration, integration, and identification?

To help answer this research question, the thesis adopts a processual analytical lens based on the concept of sensemaking. Sensemaking serves as a suitable tool to study the macro context from an individual perspective, and by building on the process-thinking literature, emphasis is put on the ongoing nature of sensemaking. The thesis therefore extends the application of sensemaking to migration studies to investigate the processes of migrating, integrating, and identifying in times of macro changes, from an individual perspective.

The study relies on a relativist, intersubjective approach. The strategy adopted to conduct the project is a qualitative one, built around a case study of semi-structured interviews, participant observation and conversations. The analysis is a thematic one to embrace the project’s strong processual approach and to reflect how phenomena are constantly and concomitantly ongoing.

The study focuses on French skilled migrant workers residing in the UK in the time of Brexit. By investigating, on the one hand, North-West intra-EU migration of a privileged group, the focus is on individuals’ migratory journey beyond economic enhancement. Brexit, on the other hand, offers a variety of macro changes directly influencing EU migrants’ migration, integration, and identification. The findings first reveal how participants tried to make sense of Brexit through three main practices: (i) by becoming knowledgeable about Brexit through traditional and social media; (ii) through an emotional evaluation of the event; and (iii) through the changes they experienced in their daily lives, particularly around the economy, social relationships, and the ongoing uncertainty. Secondly, the findings expose the way participants tried to reconstruct their identities, both in terms of personal and legal identities. The data clearly show a reassertion of participants’ Frenchness at the expense of the British citizenship. The data also present the uncertainty that Brexit raised in relation to belonging, the migrant/expatriate dichotomy, whiteness, as well as the practicalities of applying for the new settlement scheme. Third and last, the findings show participants’ migration and integration strategies in the context of Brexit, exposing a spectrum going from a deeper integration into UK society to a complete separation from it, and everything in between.

From the data, the thesis presents individual mobility as a multifaceted process, composed of migrating, integrating, and identifying, processes that are dynamic in themselves and which continuously influence each other. The thesis also shows how migrating, integrating, and identifying are each impacted by the way changes happening at the macro level have been personally experienced and thus calls for bringing perception of macro contexts into individual mobility. Overall, the thesis presents a novel conceptualisation of mobility that is multifaceted, dynamic, and links individual experiences to personal understanding of macro context. This novel conceptualisation of migratory mobility entails linking three dynamic processes together and spanning levels of analysis through a migrant, idiosyncratic lens, and thus provides a more holistic understanding of the experience of migration.

Item Type: Thesis (University of Nottingham only) (PhD)
Supervisors: Cai, Ziming
Pero, Davide
Keywords: migration, integration, identity, sensemaking, French, Brexit, European Union
Subjects: H Social sciences > HB Economic theory
H Social sciences > HC Economic history and conditions
J Political science > JV Colonies and colonization. Emigration and immigration. International migration
Faculties/Schools: UK Campuses > Faculty of Social Sciences, Law and Education > Nottingham University Business School
Item ID: 71570
Depositing User: Couloigner, Suzanne
Date Deposited: 25 Jan 2024 14:46
Last Modified: 25 Jan 2024 14:46

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